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F4C Enlisted Camera Operator ?

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F4C Enlisted Camera Operator ?


       First time poster with a Phantom question.  We have an older family friend who is a USAF Vietnam vet who has told many stories about being an enlisted camera operator in the backseat of an F4C phantom (not sure if it would have been the "R" version").  He has described the training, at least one crash/bailout, and how dangerous the role was since they were flying over previously bombed areas to get damage assessment pictures.

       Our families exchange gifts every year, and being a retired guy it's always difficult to find meaningful gifts for him.  I was thinking of honoring his service by making a small shadowbox / frame with a Phantom picture, patch, and maybe a set of enlisted aircrew wings from Ebay to commemorate his service.  However, as I have googled, I cannot seem to find any info on this USAF MOS. There is information on WSO's in the backseat, but nothing about enlisted camera operators.  Was this a very limted role for enlisted folks back in the day?  I have even wondered if we are getting the straight story from him.
     Does anyone here have any insights into this?


Pete (BuckeyeGuy)

vietnam vet
Phantom back seaters

Link to Air Force MOS's.:

All back seaters have to be officers because they have to be qualified to fly the plane in case something happens to the they have many other responsibilities like mission planning etc.

This guy is just blowing smoke....

Michael Schofield
F-4 Enlisted Back-Seat (or the Guy Screaming in the Glove Box)

The USAF F-4's did not have controls for the RIO's (now called WSO's), but the Navy/Marine F-4's did. The backseater in the Navy/Marine Phantoms had no way to fly the aircraft. The Air Force Phantoms could be flown from the rear seat. ... So, both seats in the USAF aircraft were and are commissioned officers. ("I found this online", and you can see for yourself how it contradicts itself.)    

Some enlisted did fly and some received field commissions as Warrant Officers.

Because again, I know of enlisted backseaters for RF-4B's. And yes the USMC VMCJ-1 had flight controls in the backseat, and some did not.  Just saying.

F-4 Enlisted Back-Seat (or the Guy Screaming in the Glove Box)

I served in the USMC 1967-1971 working as an Aviation Electricians Mate (AE) and worked the F-4B/J airframe. In VMFA-251 at MCAS Beaufort SC we had no enlisted back seaters in our F-4B's that I was aware of, and no rear cockpit flight controls. In VMFA-232 at MCAS Iwakuni, Japan I never saw enlisted backseaters (F-4J's) and no rear cockpit flight controls. But when I returned to the states I was assigned to VMFAT-201 at MCAS Cherry Point, North Carolina.

VMFAT-201 was a training squadron for young pilots out of flight school and others who were transistioning to the F-4. We had about twenty-four F-4J's (no rear cockpit controls) and four F-4C aircraft with fully flight-capable rear cockpits. The trainee pilots flew the rear seat in the F-4C when training to the F-4 and the experienced trainer pilot flew the front seat. When the trainee's skills were acceptable, the trainee then took the front cockpit in the F-4C and the trainer pilot took the rear cockpit, still capable of taking control of the aircraft if required. When the trainee became proficient he would begin flying the F-4J airframe with a RIO in the backseat.

At VMFAT-201 we had highly qualified and experienced enlisted backseaters who "rode" in either airframe for maintenance troubleshooting purposes when necessary. After I was discharged in 1971 VMFAT-201 furled her colors, and turned over all Marine F-4 pilot training to VMFAT-101 in California.

Enlisted Camera Operators

I was aircraft camera repair and maintenance and do not recall an enlisted cameraman ever.  However I do recall a field that went by the title of "combat camera".  They would do all types of combat documentation photography to include flying missions on varied aircraft. Your family friend may have been in this field  

I have included a link to their organization which may help : 


Michael Schofield
F-4 Enlisted Back-Seat (or the Guy Screaming in the Glove Box)

I can tell you with the utmost certainty, there were many enlisted back-seaters as WSO's/RIO's. Case in point VMCJ-1, home base MCAS Iwakuni in the early '70s, very early seventies, there were several. I should know because VMFA-115 was next door on the ramp from them while at home base. We alternated with VMFA-232 "Red Devils". I have seen Gunny's and MSgt's, doing a job, and it was no joy ride. EF-10B's and RF-4B's (Linebacker II).

1968 change to be a USAF, USMC and USN backseater

I am very familiar with this era not only because is when ground troops began to be withdrawn from SEA. Those who had ranks and AFSC's that grew out of Navigator officer ranks were excluded from F-4's and only pilots were continued. I was working on a proposal for what became the T-43 "Flying classroom" at the time leading to my eventual civilian entry to class 70-1 at Navy "Top Gun." in December of 1969. Commander J.C. Smith was the commander at the time and he was an Radar Intercept Officer (RIO) at the time. Those trained at Mather AFB before 1968 went on to be Navigators, Radar Bombardier Navigators, and Electronic Warfare Officers which led to me also interviewing the training wings at Castle and Shaw. Now then, I had been to Nellis in 1966 and met with the F-100 and F-105 "Wild Weasels" which was a role taken up by the F-4G much later at George. At some later point the shool at Miramar made me aware of Warrant Officer's going through. There was one USMC crew in my 70-1 class and it's pilot was a Major. My study of the entire process was scuttled in 1968 and all copies of the document that summarized the data from the service schools was destroyed locally.  

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